ASCs, hospitals grapple with anesthesia trends

Anesthesiologist shortages have been sweeping the nation, forcing major hospital systems to cancel procedures as ASCs and inpatient systems alike continue to fight for top talent. 

In addition, the average salary for anesthesiologists has continued to rise, forcing health systems to compete by raising wages if they want to retain specialists. 

Kenneth Candido, MD, professor of clinical anesthesiology at the University of Illinois Chicago and CEO and president of Chicago Anesthesia Associates told Becker's that anesthesiologists currently have the upper hand when it comes to employment, making things harder for systems that need specialists. 

Dr. Kenneth Candido: While physician reimbursements for anesthesia services are decidedly on the decline from insurance companies, anesthesiology salaries have risen at the very same time. In fact, anesthesiology salaries have never been higher in history. How has this occurred?  Simply stated, anesthesia services have been deemed to be essential to the entire functioning of any institution, from providing emergency airway services on the units and in the emergency department, to supporting labor and delivery and the GI suites and operating rooms. 

The operating room revenue runs the economic functioning of most major hospitals. The hospitals cannot afford to let the ORs be partially empty due to the driving force of the revenue stream as well as the fact that the cost of running them, full or empty, is extreme.

How is this disparity managed?  Major medical institutions have had to scramble to divert funds from one or several other service lines to anesthesia. There is a major shortage of anesthesia providers in the U.S. Anesthesiologists are in a unique position to essentially state their salaries, or else walk to accept positions elsewhere or to do locum work for incredible hourly rates.

Hospitals are scared to death and have been held hostage by the anesthesiologists who know that they can walk away at any moment for higher bidders. A bidding war has evolved and anesthesiologists are in the driver's seat. Everyone knows this. So hospitals are robbing Peter to pay Paul, as it were. It is an unsustainable situation which is destined to implode. Time will tell who the winners and the losers are going to be. But in the end, it likely will not be pretty.

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